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Unclassed forests UPSC NOTE

 Unclassed forests

  • Unclassed forests are other forests and wastelands belonging to both government and private individuals and communities

  • All North-eastern states and parts of Gujarat have a very high percentage of their forests as unclassed forests managed by local communities.

Forest (Conservation) Act Amendment (FCAA) 2023 mandate with respect to unclassed forests

  • With the enactment of FCAA, unclassed forests — which have legal protection under the landmark T.N. Godavarman Thirumalpad (1996) casewould lose this protection, leading to their inevitable diversion. 

  • The State Expert Committee (SEC) reports were to be prepared in pursuance of the order, which specified that ‘forests’ as per their dictionary meaning and all categories of forests irrespective of ownership and notification status would be included under the ambit of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. 

  • As a result, unclassed forests, also known as deemed forests, would require the Central government’s approval in case a project proponent sought to divert that land for non-forest use. 

  • Unclassed or deemed forests may belong to forests, revenue, railways and other government entities, community forests or those under private ownership, but are not notified

Criticism

  • The status of the reports were unknown from 1996 until they shot back into prominence when the MoEFCC told a Joint Parliamentary Committee that the SECs had identified unclassed forests that had been taken on record. 

  • This was in response to criticism that the proposed law undermined the Godavarman judgment and would exclude all unclassed forest land from its purview. 

  • The MoEFCC had assured the Committee that “the amended Act would be applicable” to the SEC-identified unclassed forests. 

  • However, in response to an RTI application filed on January 17, the MoEFCC said it “did not have the requisite reports”.

  • The treatment of SECs without on-ground verification is likely to have resulted in the large-scale destruction of forests — which ought to have been identified, demarcated, and protected 27 years ago. 

  • But with no baseline data from 1996-1997, we have no idea how much unclassed forest has been lost.

States Submission

  • While the MoEFCC has now uploaded the SEC reports on its website, they reveal a grim picture: no State has provided verifiable data on the identification, status, and location of unclassed forests. 

  • In fact, seven States and Union Territories — Goa, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal — appear not to have constituted the SEC at all

  • Twenty-three States have shared their reports but only 17 are in line with the Court’s directives.

  • Only nine States have provided the extent of unclassed forests

  • Most states and UTs only shared the extent of different types of forest areas specified in the order: under government ownership, either with forest or revenue and in a few cases under other government departments.

  • Any identifying geographical information of forest land, where given, is only of reserve or protected forests, which isn’t useful because this information is already available with Forest Departments

  • The SEC reports also question the veracity of the reports of the Forest Survey of India, the only government agency to survey and assess forests.


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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Unclassed forests UPSC NOTE
Unclassed forests UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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